Header photo by Camille Munday
What we did in 2018
The Friends had another excellent year, raising money for a large conservation project to restore elm trees in the Park, funding four other conservation projects, continuing to grow its volunteer litter-picking group, helping in the adoption of Volunteer Community Rangers in the Park and developing a new website.
However, we continue to struggle to protect the Park against the rapidly increasing number of visitors who are encouraged by social and mainstream media. Deer harassment is widespread and indeed many people come just to see, and get close to, the deer.
We continue to educate people about how to treat the Park through our film and our Tread Lightly message, but it is an uphill battle. We hope that the new Volunteer Rangers will help to tackle the worst aspects of visitor behaviour.
The Friends worked with The Royal Parks (“TRP”) to create a new Elm Walk of 48 trees along the path leading from Petersham Gate. The project is intended to re-establish elms in Richmond Park using a hybrid resistant to Dutch Elm disease and provide a habitat for the White-letter Hairstreak butterfly. TRP designed the walk and managed the tree planting, while the Friends marketed them to potential sponsors and ran four “planting” days when donors were able to hold small ceremonies. We successfully found sponsors for all 47 trees and raised over £80,000 to fund the project, with the surplus going to other conservation projects in the Park. The first tree in the Walk is in the name of our patron Sir David Attenborough. The trustees are very grateful to all the sponsors and to the volunteers who organised the appeal.
The Friends funded four conservation projects in the Park during the year, often jointly with the Visitor Centre and sometimes with TRP also. They included:
- the permanent fencing of Ham Gate Pond which, after its restoration and the removal of invasive weeds, has become a haven for dragon/damselflies;
- fencing to protect the Pen Ponds shore line and its wildfowl from deer and dogs;
- fencing and planting in Pen Ponds Plantation to create a new deer-proof area along its land border where a native hedge has been planted, creating a new habitat for birds and insects; and
- permanent fencing around the gorse enclosures near Holly Lodge which have become a very successful bird habitat since they were created ten years ago.
Unfortunately, the second stage of the Beverley Brook restoration was delayed into 2019, to avoid harming the skylark areas.
Volunteer Community Rangers
Over the last three years the Friends has worked on the idea of Park Rangers to help deal with the impact on the Park of rapidly increasing visitor numbers, particularly as police numbers have declined so drastically; this included researching similar places such as the Peak District and Dartmoor National Parks. Discussion with TRP settled on a plan for Volunteer Community Rangers to educate the public and tackle inappropriate behaviour. TRP have now implemented that plan and recruited and trained volunteers, including some Friends’ members, for a trial this Easter and a larger scheme in the summer. We think the Rangers could have an enormous impact on problems such deer harassment.
Some 60 volunteers staff and organise the Park’s Visitor Centre (the “VC”), which provides information about the Park and items for sale, with the surplus funding Park conservation projects. The VC is open 364 days, from 10am to 4 pm in summer and 11 am to 3 pm in winter. In 2018 the VC had 55,000 visitors and £66,000 in sales. Park-related products developed by the Friends – calendar, Christmas and greeting cards, DVD, books and merchandise – contribute about half of the VC’s surplus. We introduced collapsible re-usable coffee cups for sale to reduce plastic usage in the Park. Sadly, Mary Davies and Liz Hunt, who have been responsible for leading and developing the VC for the last nine years, stepped down at the end of the year: they will be sorely missed. The VC is a key to the Friends objective to educate the public about the special nature of the Park and to help visitors to appreciate its ecology, wildlife and heritage.
We now have a well-established and substantial team of over 50 litter-picking volunteers working in the Adopt-an-Area scheme. People adopt one of 29 areas, covering the whole of the Park, and pick litter at least once a week when they are walking there. In addition, there are roaming litter-pickers and some who concentrate on particular areas such as roadsides. Individuals, couples, friends, in one case a whole young family have adopted and identify with their area and there is a waiting list for areas! It’s a tribute to the team and especially to Steve Sandham, who set up the scheme, that it is now being copied in other parks, including Wimbledon Common.
Practical conservation work
This team of 20-30 volunteers, does hands-on conservation and continues to work every Saturday in the autumn and winter months removing rhododendron ponticum in Pen Ponds Plantation. During the year, it completed clearing the deer accessible areas and, after the new deer-proof fencing was installed (see conservation projects above) helped to plant the new hedge along the border of the Plantation. It has also been involved in coppicing the gorse in the newly fenced gorse enclosures. A small sub-group of volunteers – the Beverley Brook Volunteer Group - has regularly cleared Beverley Brook of rubbish and been involved in various surveys, notably of ant hills and nocturnal small mammals. The practical conservation group always attracts new recruits eager to work in the open air and contribute to the Park and has now adopted the Green Gym name to reflect its physical work.
The Friends now has a new website. The previous one (and our first website) was over twelve years old and, while it still looked good and many people liked it, it was difficult for us to operate and websites have moved on considerably both technically and in what people want from them. The new site has much greater use of high-quality photos and should be easier both for visitors and us; it also works much better on phones and tablets. There is a new facility for people to apply and pay for Friends membership online and to apply to be a volunteer. The Trustees are very grateful to Steve Sandham and his team for their hard work and to the web developer, Blue Flamingo in Twickenham.
We now have about 230 volunteer posts. This includes staffing the Visitor Centre, practical conservation work, the Discoverers education programme, litter-picking, walks and courses, Park monitoring and of course, the 25-30 volunteers involved in organising the Friends itself. Volunteer teams are largely self-managing and we keep the central direction “light touch” with minimum bureaucracy, while still meeting statutory requirements such as H&S and GDPR. The Trustees estimate that volunteers contribute 14,000 hours a year, worth nearly £150,000 based on the London Living Wage, to conservation and public education in the Park. Once again, the Trustees would like to thank the many volunteers who have contributed so much during the year.
The Friends regularly campaigns on issues affecting the Park, using a variety of approaches, from behind-the-scenes lobbying to public campaigns. As we mention above, our work over the last two to three years on Park Rangers bore fruit in 2018. Two Trustees, Vivienne Press and Nick Coleman, undertook research on signage, including an inventory of signs in the Park (we counted over 1200 of which 300 are environmental) and signage best practice in National Parks in the US, and elsewhere, and this has helped to prompt TRP’s current signage review. Our successful public campaign in 2017/18 for increased protection of the view from King Henry’s Mound to St Paul’s had its first practical impact in the autumn when the Olympicopolis development at Stratford announced a reduction in the height of its two towers and more developments followed suit. In contrast we unsuccessfully objected to two residential developments just outside Roehampton Gate that will add significantly to light pollution in the Park.
The Friends film “Richmond Park – National Nature Reserve”, narrated by Sir David Attenborough, has now been viewed over 100,000 times on YouTube and another 400,000 times on the TV channel London Live which broadcast it three times over the 2018 Christmas period. We have also shown it at thirty schools in the surrounding three boroughs.
We now have three sponsors - Russell-Cooke, Thames Water and The Property Partnership. They have their logo on all our communications, as well as other FRP publicity about what they do. Sponsorship provides us with a steady annual income of £7,500 that means we can plan ahead for funding conservation projects. We are very grateful to the three organisations for their support.
We offered over 20 public walks and courses (a talk and a walk) for adults, i.e. nearly two a month, with large numbers turning out for the Boxing Day walk and some courses. We are extending this to include more talks without the walk and tours of areas of the Park. We will keep the public walks free as a key part of achieving the Friends charitable objectives.
Discoverers, our education programme for young families, held activities such as Bat Watch and Fungi Art Workshop, but had to postpone some events because of poor weather. Two of the Discoverers families became involved as Butterfly Surveyors and we would like to encourage young families to become more involved with the Park in this way.
GDPR - We made changes to our data protection to meet the new GDPR rules. The rules seem to have been designed for large organisations and there was no relevant practical government guidance. It caused us (and other small charities) a lot of work for little benefit since we already had tight data protection. Our basic principles remain that we never share our membership and volunteer data with outside bodies, we have tight internal rules on who can see what data and we quickly unsubscribe people if they ask us.
The Friends’ membership showed a small (3%) increase to 1780 memberships or 2600 members (counting one member for an individual subscription and two for a household subscription). Our turnover of members is very low at about 8%, implying our members stay with us for an average of 12 years.
Plans for the future
The Friends plans to maintain its activities broadly along the present lines. Our priorities in 2019 include developing a three-year plan for our funding of conservation projects, bringing in new people to help run the Friends, finalising the improvements in our volunteering process and helping TRP where necessary to implement the Rangers and signage improvements. We will also campaign strongly to protect Richmond Park against threats to its peace, natural beauty and wildlife, of which the latest in 2019 is likely to be Heathrow and its flights paths.
What we did in 2017
The Friends had an excellent year with the completion and launch of its film about Richmond Park with Sir David Attenborough, the development of a substantial volunteer litter-picking group and a big increase in donations and funds available for conservation projects. However, we struggle to protect the Park against the rapidly increasing number of visitors; the worst aspect this year was large-scale deer harassment by the public. The film, with its Tread Lightly message is our attempt to educate people about how to treat the Park but we are fighting a wave of mainstream and social media encouraging people to visit it. We want visitors to come but not at the expense of the Park’s fabric and wildlife.
The Friends film “Richmond Park – National Nature Reserve” was launched in April at the Royal Geographical Society. Narrated by Sir David Attenborough and filmed by George Chan and Gavin Thurston, both of whom have worked with Sir David on his wildlife productions such as Planet Earth, its aim is to change people’s perception of the Park from seeing it as just a local park to valuing it as a unique place with a rich ecology and wildlife that should be protected. Over 600 people, including 250 schoolchildren, attended the launch, which was managed by 50 volunteers and hosted by Sir Trevor McDonald. It featured Sir David himself, Lloyd Grossman the Chair of The Royal Parks (TRP) and Julian Glover the actor, who read David Harsent’s lovely poem about the Park, commissioned by the Friends. The 20 minute film and the three minute social media version has now been seen by nearly 200,000 people in the six screenings by the TV channel London Live and online. A DVD of the film and the launch event is on sale at the Visitor Centre and we have offered a free copy to all schools in the three boroughs surrounding the Park. We continue to promote it as the centrepiece of our Tread Lightly campaign.
Begun by three members, including one of the Trustees, the Friends new volunteer litter-picking has quickly grown into a substantial activity and contribution to protecting the Park. It started with a Spring Clean of the Park in March undertaken by 85 volunteers to coincide with Keep Britain Tidy’s annual event. Because many volunteers wanted more regular litter-picking, we set up Adopt-an-Area, whereby people adopt one of 29 areas covering the whole of the Park and pick litter at least once a week when they are walking there. Individuals, couples, friends, in one case a whole young family have adopted and identify with their area; there is now a waiting list for areas! We thank everyone involved for its great success.
Finances and conservation projects
Campaigning and monitoring
The Friends’ conservation volunteers have nearly finished their work removing rhododendron and planting trees in Pond Plantation; the Friends is funding fencing to protect replacement planting from deer. Our Discoverers programme for young families is in its fifth year and had events such as Park in the Dark sky-watching, a deer “safari”, a bat watch, tree identification, fungi art and an Isabella trail.
We also offered over 20 public walks and courses for adults, i.e. nearly two a month, with large numbers turning out for the Boxing Day walk and some courses. The weekly Friday informal bird-watching walks, which were started in 2014, continue to be very popular. The Trustees intend to keep the public walks free and see them as a key part of achieving the Friends’ charitable objectives.
The Friends’ calendars, Christmas and other cards continue to sell well through the Visitor Centre and merchandise (tea towels, caps, hats, bags) which we started in 2016 has sold reasonably well. Surplus funds go to conservation projects in the Park.
Russell-Cooke, the local law firm, renewed their sponsorship for a further two years and we have added Thames Water as a new sponsor, with a third sponsor likely in 2018. Each sponsor pays £2,500 a year to have their logo on our communications and some other benefits. Sponsorship provides us with a steady annual income that means we can plan ahead for conservation projects without relying on income from donations, which can vary substantially from year to year, or on specific appeals
Membership - after two years of decrease following the change in subscription fee in January 2015, the Friends’ membership showed a 7% increase to 1720 memberships or 2525 members (counting one member for an individual subscription and two for a household subscription) by end 2017 – higher than before the subscription increase.
Plans for the future
What we did in 2016
Friends publishing and merchandise
Walks and courses
Plans for the future